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Interview:
Michigan's Sweet Water Warblers is greater than the sum of its parts
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Rachael Davis, May Erlewine and Lindsay Lou didn't realize they were forming a band when they first sang together nearly six years ago.



The trio of Michigan singer-songwriters, now known as the Sweet Water Warblers, was just happy to get through the gig.



They'd been approached by organizers of the 2014 Hoxeyville Music Festival in Wellston for what they thought was a one-off special event.



"We didn't have much time to prepare maybe an hour before the set," recalls Erlewine, the only Warbler who still resides in Michigan (Traverse City). "As soon as we got on stage and started singing, we were all looking around wide-eyed, like, 'Whoa, this is something else!' It was a real blessing."



The Warblers has indeed turned into a going concern for the Davis, Erlewine and Lou all entrenched with solid and critically lauded careers of their own. The troupe put out an EP, "With You," in 2017, and on Friday, May 15, it independently released its first full-length album, "The Dream That Holds This Child," recorded in Nashville, where Davis and Lou reside, with producer Dan Knobler.



"We're so excited," Davis says by phone. "It's been such a long time coming." But, she adds, the time spent doing shows as the Warblers benefitted the trio in the studio.



"I think it really helped us hone our dynamics, for sure," says Davis, whose husband Dominic John Davis tours and records with Jack White, among others. "We were already good friends, for sure, and peers in what we did, and the collaboration was a very easy progression and a very easy transition."



Making "The Dream That Holds This Child" was certainly easier than the "With You" EP, which was marred by technical difficulties that forced the Warblers to change studios on the fly. Things went much smoother this time, with a wealth of material both existing Davis' bluesy "Summertime," for instance, dates back 12 years and created especially for the album. "They were in different stages of how done they were and who wrote the most on them," Erlewine notes. "But it was very collaborative, and a lot of the songs were pretty straight co-writes between us."



In the studio last October, Erlewine adds, "We realized there's something about our three voices together, so for this record Dan just had us sing. We didn't have instruments at all. We sang in the same room, close to each other. There was a sacred place we got to when we lifted our voices together. It's something unique we can't pinpoint, exactly, but it's our guiding light and what's important about what we do."



The 10-song set is also a testament to the trio's range, blending folk, gospel and Appalachian strains into both the arrangements and the vocal harmonies.



"I think that each of us represents a little package of American music," Davis says. "Lindsay holds down the bluegrass sector, and May does the singer-songwriter pretty consistently. I've always gravitated towards the blues and gospel. So when the three of us come together, there seem to be those elements in whatever it is we create."



Erlewine agrees that "it's pretty eclectic," adding that "we try to be more of a band than a 'supergroup.' It's hard when you have these strong individuals with their own things coming together and trying to figure out what it is. It's interesting to balance that out and find a place that that is us instead of just three of us thrown together."



Davis says the Warblers have "gotten through the mourning" of having to cancel a planned album release show in Nashville, as well as other events in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The group made a Facebook appearance the day of the album's release, and Davis and Erlewine will perform streaming concerts this week for The Ark's Family Room Series.



The trio is hoping that a headlining spot at the Wheatland Music Festival during September in Michigan may still happen, but in the meantime each member is busy working on more material, some of which will likely make its way into the Warblers repertoire and perhaps another album.



"We love each other and embrace each other so much," Erlewine says. "To sing with each other is a gift. It's always been understood it's a side project and something we want to keep really special and cherish and take care of, which is a great understanding to have. It makes it easy and special when we are together."



Warble On

Two of the Sweet Water Warblers perform streaming concerts this week for The Ark's Family Room Series in Ann Arbor:



Rachael Davis and her husband Dominic John Davis play at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 17;



And May Erlewine performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 19.



Shows are available via theark.org/ark-family-room-series. Admission is free, with donations accepted for the venue and performers.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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